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But the question of whether such a move could be logically, morally, and legally justified is very different from the more pressing and relevant question, which is whether such a move would be wise. The most obvious reason, I think, is that any college or university that does assert real control over its faculty and students’ intellectual work is going to put itself at a competitive disadvantage with those institutions that allow their students and faculty to keep control over their work.Institutions looking to attract top faculty and students will find a liberal intellectual-property policy to be a very low-cost way of increasing their advantage—certainly cheaper than hiring a trailing spouse, building a lab, or boosting a salary offer. “Sure, giving faculty the right to publish wherever they want and giving students the right to embargo their dissertations may be cheap in the short run, but it’s expensive in the long run because it perpetuates the current, unsustainably expensive scholarly communication system.” That may be true. Here’s how it goes: first, a scholarly organization makes a statement saying that authors in its field ought to be able to decide for themselves, within limits, whether and for how long their dissertations will be embargoed from public access.
In my experience, colleges and university administrators are much more concerned—for better or for worse—with attracting top faculty and students in the short run than they are with changing the world of scholarly communication in the long run.
To the degree that that’s truly the case, defusing that competitive dynamic would require a universal commitment on the part of colleges and universities to the principle of asserting ownership over faculty and student work.
This unwillingness is what leads to outrage in the blogosphere and Twitterverse whenever an organization like the AHA or the OAH publicly suggests that students should have the right to choose how and when their work will be publicly distributed.
The deeper issue, however, is a longstanding one that this repeating cycle of debate may finally force academia to confront and resolve: it is the question of who owns the intellectual work created on campus.
And the likelihood that 100% of colleges and universities will agree to forego a very real competitive advantage in the name of changing the scholarly communication system strikes me as very, very low.
Nor does there seem to be widespread enthusiasm for such a move on the part of faculty themselves.
The Doctoral Dissertation: Purpose, Content, Structure, Assessment (Canagian Association for Graduate Studies, 2016) Graduate education in 2020 (Denecke, ed., 2009) What is a dissertation?
New models, methods, media (HASTAC Futures Initiative) The evolving dissertation landscape (HASTAC Futures Initiative) Ph D: Is the doctoral dissertation obsolete?
In most contexts, intellectual work created during the normal course of one’s employment is considered a “work for hire” under copyright law, and it remains the property of the employer.
This will usually be the case for such intellectual products as internal policy documents, memos, instruction manuals, white papers written on behalf of a company, etc.